Thursday, July 31, 2008

The 30th

Last night, on my 30th birthday, we went to a seaside restaurant in Narragansett. Upon our return to the car after our meal, The Boss peered over a stone wall nearly as tall as she was to an ocean that crashed into rocks below us and stretched out in seeming endlessness before us.

"I can't believe my mind!" she marveled. She meant "eyes," but I liked her spin.

As she focused on the blue beyond, three categories of people squeezed by on the sidewalk: teenagers on the fast track to what lay in front of them; groups of elderly women in no hurry at all; and joggers making a loop. I watched them, then took in my family standing still at my side. The Boss took in sea and sky. Number Two looked at a strange combination of everything and nothing. From a perspective six feet high, The Partner kept a constant scan of all of us (with a few backward glances to the restaurant, where the hostess with the 20 inch waist floated by in front of each new party).

So this is thirty, I thought. The reality coursed through the different levels of my subconscious and my everyday brain, as muddy and salty as the Atlantic.

I can't believe my mind, either.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Key to Her Heart

Number Two dotes on The Boss in a way that seems a bit unmerited at first glance.

To everyone else he is a stoic. He goes about his business with steadiness and care. He eats. He digests. He spews from both ends. His mouth, when not occupied in an aspect of the aforementioned process, is a straight line.

When he sees The Boss, his lips arc. The curve comes closer to a half circle with each moment of attention his superior deigns to send his way. He positively beams.

For the past three months, The Boss has been prone to walking away after one look, or slap, or curt word flung in Number Two's direction. It was as though he'd go away if she ignored him. But now there is idolization in the set of her brother's features, and she thinks she might like him a bit more. Sometimes she leans in for a closer look. Sometimes she starts to coo. She often introduces him with the proud, emphatic point of her finger: "That's my brother. Right there. That's him."

The realm of the sibling is one strange place. Where else can selfishness and even moments of cruelty garner the kind of devotion that a little brother or sister can give to an older counterpart? But as strange as this nascent ass-kissing behavior may seem on its face, it makes more sense as I think about it. And suddenly it's not foreign at all.

Number Two knows on an innate level what people in different kinds of relationships rationalize much later--that the key to some hearts must slide in through an ego lock.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Supplest Supplication

It's like a prayer, the way his two feet come together beneath knees bent back and to the side. Each pad pushes against its mate--heel to heel, ball to ball. The grip of ten toes is a stunted steeple. I thought he would've lost that fetal bend by now, but he's three months into the fresh air and still feeling for the womb.

It means he's new. He's doubled his birth weight and discovered the difference between day and night, but the proof is in the crook of his legs and in two searching feet. He's still new. I can run my hands over the silken powder of his thigh, which tapers fatly to his knee. I can put my finger into the grip of his toes and laugh when he doesn't let go.

And I do. I sit there, finger-in-foot, for so long that it becomes impossible to tell whether the newborn is holding onto me or I'm holding onto the newborn.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Happy Birthday, Boss

Today marks the third anniversary of The Boss's rise to power as the head of this family. From the moment she was ripped from my gaping abdomen while I laid there unconscious, she's been the one in charge.

The Boss is benevolent. She drops lispy words of encouragement like candy: "I really love you, Mommy" or "You're beautiful." She says "please" and "thank you" and "may I use that when you're done?"

She only breaks down occasionally, though you definitely don't want to be the one called into her office to witness that harangue.

She's a people person, too. She chats with strangers in the supermarket about subjects ranging from her weekend plans to body parts and functions to her upcoming pre-school matriculation. These strangers are usually charmed by her voice and passion. I am always proud. Okay, well, sometimes--in the case of the exclamations on functional anatomy--I admit to being a tad bit embarrassed.

Her thoughts and emotions are vivid. They're right there. She's a magnifying glass that uses sunlight to ignite everything in the line of sight. Without her, I wouldn't notice half of what's around me, and there'd be no fire.

Yesterday I told her that her birthday was also my anniversary. "You made me a mom," I said. "Before that, I was just Binky."

She laughed, like that was so silly. "You're not Binky. You're Mommy Binky." She threw everything into the giggle that followed, the sound coming from her diaphragm and emerging deeper and louder than one would expect from a just-turned-three-year-old. She always laughs like that. "You're not Binky. Nope."

"That's right," I agreed, matching her laugh. I'd defy anyone not to. "That's exactly what I'm trying to tell you."

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Better Start Saving for That Booming System Now

An ornery Boss could always be calmed by classical music while traveling in the car. From the first time left the hospital as a family through this very day, a little Bach goes a long way. The opening notes of a concerto can be counted on to stop her wails and keep her on the silent side of satisfied.

Number Two, on the other hand, has no interest in the soft stuff. It's the thump of the bass that lulls him. Today he had been working himself into a tizzy for fifteen minutes when Salt 'n' Pepa's Push It came on the 80s channel of my Sirius Satellite Radio (have they really been around that long?!?!). His shrieks reduced to fits and starts. I turned it up. The crying stopped completely.

I nodded to myself and settled into a much more relaxing car ride. I even made an extra stop on a library book-returning mission I had thought I was going to have to abort when he was in the midst of his hysterics. It was only when I pulled up to the curb next to the book drop-off box that I realized how the situation might seem to others. The car was vibrating with sound, each tiny tremor making the rear view mirror shimmer. "Ooh, baby, baby" shot out the driver's seat when I opened my door. I turned it down, not out of concern for ear drums or moral development, but out of self-consciousness. Then I made the book depsoit and hopped back in the seat, pumping Push It right back up.

As an elderly gentleman emerged from the library, I figured it was a good thing the song was relatively benign retro hip hop and not something from, say, Big Poppa's body of work. Because a good mother would never expose her bass-fiending baby to that, right?


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Bringing Summer Back

Childhood has an everlasting impact on summertime. When I was young, the season was rendered distinct by vacations and extended visits to my best friend's house and a shallow, plastic pool. There was a year of school and then two and a half months of glorious freedom. I came to associate that lack of structure with heat, pungent grass clippings, and the reverb of motorcycles in the distance.

Now that I don't attend school and don't have a set work week, summer has nothing to interrupt. A day now is like a day last month is like a day five months ago, except that it's hotter and sometimes we go swimming. There are still clothes to wash, bathrooms to clean, articles to write and a baby to feed. I may step outside for brief intervals, but then I escape back into the air conditioning where the smell of grass and the sound of motorcycles can't follow. The season just doesn't pack the punch that it used to. Yet the idea of it can still knock me over.

When I was a child I thought summertime naturally populated itself with friends and beaches and amusement parks and lightning bugs. It turns out my parents were the ones who made a lot of that possible. They packed up the beach provisions; they drove the car filled with screaming ingrates and are-we-there-yets; they left the dishes in the sink to go outside and catch bright bugs in jars.

Now I'm a parent myself and my three year old daughter is making me realize a few things, one of which is this: summer is not going to come to me. I have to go get it and then present it to the kids as if it was always there. It's a little bit surreal, I have to tell you. A little bit hot and hazy. I'm not used to summer requiring work.

We haven't even been the beach yet, and the season is half over. We've eaten dinner out on the deck maybe twice. I haven't even had to crack the lid on the mosquito repellant.

It's time to go be a kid again.

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Different Kind of Funny

I was reading the latest Janet Evanovich book in bed last night when I laughed out loud at a passage. That in itself was not unusual. It's her fourteenth Stephanie Plum by-the-numbers book, and each one leading up to it has elicited in me everything from giggles to guffaws. But there was something about the evening--the July heat, the humidity, the fact that both the children were quiet and sleeping--that reminded me of the first time I'd ever read a Stephanie Plum story. It was five or six years ago. I'd laughed so loud I woke up my parents in their nearby room. My father growled a string of unintelligible obscenities. I just rolled my eyes and went back to the hilarity. I was a college graduate living back at home while searching for a job. I was so selfishly happy.

My memory is fixated on the lightweightness of it all. The thin blanket in a tent over my legs as I perched the book on my knees. The crickets outside a window where tall trees were shadowed a degree darker than the night. The turned-away clock that meant nothing.

Not long after that--a year, maybe two--I was engaged to be married. Our first child came a year after the wedding. Our second arrived two years and nine months after that.

Four years. Just four fast years. Last night I found similarities between my old life and my new one in the evening, the bed, the out-loud laughing and the summer heat; but more than that, I felt differences. Oh-my-freaking-God. I am married. I am a mother. I am beholden to my husband and my babies and a mortgage company.

I am happy. There's no doubt about that. My days have more dimensions than they ever have before. Each moment is heavy with consequence. But selfishly happy I am not. I can't imagine I ever will be again.

The days of lightness are stuck in my head but I can't feel them. There's no mellow flow of air raising goosebumps on my arm. Outside, the grass clippings settle beneath the moon but do not release the cooled-earth scent I used to inhale.

But that's okay. Like the Bible and the Byrds say, there's a season for all of it. And as long as Ms. Evanovich keeps churning out the funny, I'll continue laughing right along.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

When a Mental Health Day Is In Order

If I was Number Two, I'd be filing a harrassment report against The Boss over in HR right about now.

But the little guy just sits there and takes it.

Yesterday one of The Boss's fits sent a television remote whizzing right past his head. The day before that, she threw her bowl of dry cereal at him when he would not stop crying in the backseat of the car. She went over to her nana's house last weekend and was witnessed putting her hand over his nose and mouth.

It's not just Number Two who has a valid case against his superior, though. I myself am studying workplace policies to find out what kind of recourse I have when it comes to The Boss's tantrums.

My frustration came to a head last night when she refused dinner on the grounds that it was--AND I QUOTE--"not tasty." Her hysteria rose quickly. When I told her she needed to eat the food anyway, she began to huff and puff and blow sheets of snot from her nose. I put her in her room. She ran back out, screaming. Somehow she made it back downstairs, all the while yelling in barely coherent tones about her thirst. Something about "milk, not juice." She tore into the living room, where she launched a full cup of watered-down Tropical Blend across the coffee table and six feet of carpet.

I made the mistake of calling The Partner. I don't know why. If I wanted sympathy, I was barking up the wrong tree. If I wanted advice, I'd be better off calling someone with practical experience and a non-Hitlerian approach to child-rearing. He immediately went on the defensive at the sound of my impatience, shouting out a string of commands for me to use on The Boss. In fact, I'd already tried them all (except the ones involving duct tape and rope, obviously). Nothing worked. They were tactics that only proved effective when administered by The Partner himself. The Partner's word has always been law as far as The Boss is concerned. My word is white noise.

As it turns out, knowing that The Partner was on the other line of the phone was enough to send The Boss back up to her room of her own accord. I had just hung up on him--being yelled at from both sides didn't appeal to me--when I heard The Boss's last defiant cry behind the slamming door. And, silence. I was still for a moment as I waited to see if it held.

It did. I slunk into a heap on the kitchen stool. My energy drained from all useful parts and pooled like sewage in my chest. I stared out of the picture window onto a long row of weeds interspersed with roses and tiger lillies.

Then Number Two started to burble. Then he started to cry.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Fever! In The Morning, Fever All Through the Night

Number Two has a fever. Again.

This time it all began with his vaccines, which he received yesterday morning at his two month appointment. Yesterday night, we discovered a 101.4 fever. Visions of a lab coats and needles danced in our heads. To say that the whole family has been traumatized by his last feverish episode and subsequent hospitalization (including spinal tap)--which occured when he was just three weeks old--is putting it mildly. But we pushed past the flashbacks and phoned the on-call doctor.

She suggested we wait a bit to see if the fever went down. It did (somewhat). We retired for the evening, happy to be in our own beds. A steady 100.4 throughout the night afforded us all some rest. When I called the doctor's office upon the resumption of normal business hours, the nurse said such a reaction to vaccines was normal and that we should monitor it and call back later today if symptoms persist.

I would be much more blissful if I was ignorant of the risks of fever in a newborn and the speculative risks of vaccines. Yesterday, before Number Two's temp-rise registered, I was talking to my mother about my qualms relating to the recommended vaccine regimen for infants and toddlers. She just laughed at me. She'd never worried about such things, she said, and everything turned out just fine.

As I humphed on the other end of the phone line, I realized we truly are in a strange place in this day and age. It's hard to strike a balance between knowing too much and not knowing nearly enough.

On a positive note, I found a study stating that children with recurrent fevers in infancy are less likely to develop allergies. So that's good. We've got that going for us.